Feedback on itinerary for short stay in San Jose, Costa Rica?
December 30, 2013 6:11 PM   Subscribe

Feedback on itinerary for short stay in San Jose, Costa Rica? I'm very unfamiliar with the area...

This is part of a larger trip through several countries. I realize essentially one day of sight-seeing is nothing, but here is what I've been given:

Day 1: flight into Costa Rica (San Jose)
rent a SUV (someone is bringing GPS)
spend night at Hotel Balmoral

Day 2: drive to Poas volcano crater
then La Paz waterfall park
then back to San Jose in time for evening event (TBD)
spend night at Hotel Balmoral

Day 3: a morning of rest (or nearby shopping)
depart SJO airport for mid-day flight to next leg of journey

This would take place in May-ish. I've heard the roads are bad, but other people insist they do not want to take a bus or hire a driver. Does this itinerary seem plausible? I suspect Poas/La Paz is a full day by itself and we won't make it back in time to do anything in San Jose. Any other comments?

PS. I spent an hour reviewing past questions on Costa Rica.
posted by 99percentfake to Travel & Transportation around Costa Rica (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know those specific roads, nor do I know how bad rainy season is; however, I have experience driving similar distances in Costa Rica and I have driven in the rain there as well...

My experience, when looking at Google maps at your route and knowing the routes and the times that I've taken, it will take a fair amount longer. It isn't the delay of the road, but more the delay of everybody else ahead of you. Things take longer. Google puts those legs at an hour, a half hour, and then another hour back. I'm also assuming that you are only going to sight-see at Poas and that you aren't doing extensive hiking or traveling in the park, similar at La Paz.

If you left for Poas early, didn't spend too long, then headed to La Paz. I'd think you are realistically looking at 2 hours for the drive to Poas, about an hour and a half driving to La Paz, and then 2 more hours back. If you can swing five hours of driving bumpy terrain you'll likely be able to do it.

Lastly, have a back-up plan. If you got stuck at La Paz overnight, when would you need to leave to make sure you get back to San Jose in time? Are you cool with that? It is definitely a doable trip, just its like 5 hours of driving. Be sure that that's how you want to spend your day.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:44 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Make sure you make some time to visit either the Jade or Gold museum, which are near the hotel. If you're on a tight schedule, it's probably not worth doing both, because there are a lot of similar exhibits, but you should definitely check out at least one of them.

The roads near San Jose are a lot better than the roads are around the rest of the country, so I wouldn't be too concerned about renting a car, personally. If you were going long distances, I'd recommend taking a bus or a shuttle, but it's not too bad if you're staying close to the city.

You can also arrange transport to most touristy things through the hotel, which would be nice if you want to meet other people.
posted by empath at 7:49 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

For any driving in/around San Jose, I would leave some wiggle room. San Jose has some of the worst traffic I've ever seen - it is unbelievably bad. It took me two and a half times as long as Google Maps said it would to get from the airport to the hotel via taxi.
posted by gursky at 9:09 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Understand that San Jose is the armpit of Costa Rica. Apart from the gold museum, which is okay, you'll do best to get out of the city, because there is little to do or see.

If you don't want to take a brief local flight to somewhere more interesting for your short stay, then I recommend taking the day-long Highlights Tour, because then you'll get to experience some of the range of micro-climates that Costa Rica is famous for. It's done at a relaxed pace in a modern coach with lots of stops for meals, breaks, sightseeing and picture taking. (My favorite part was the jungle river cruise.)

If you do take a local flight on Sansa or Nature Air, they both now fly in/out of SJO for easy connections. In which case, you won't need a car; taxis are generally easy to find near local airports and are reliable.

Have fun!
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:09 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having lived in CR as an exchange student in high school, I learned how to get around there pretty well.

First thing you should know is that, with exception to gated communities and tourist districts, places don't have mailing addresses the way that we know them. My old mailing address was something to the likes of:

250 meters north of the old church,
X City, X Province

I was last there in 2011 and Google maps worked okay.

Second thing you should know is that if you are a Spanish speaker, you'll find some interesting linguistic oddities. Usted is used in place of Tu in most situations. For the super informal relationship, you'll hear Vos. "Pachuco" is, I suppose, the 'sublanguage', where "jupa" is for "cabeza" and so on. They have indigenous roots and are to some considered pejoratives.

On driving so much, there will be pretty good infrastructure to most of those places. Yeah, some of the roads are bad and you literally have to watch your step while walking because people regularly take manhole covers, storm drain grates, etc. for scrap metal. Do expect many car horns blaring: they aren't being mean; it's a convention to give a little honk or two as a sign of "thanks for letting me merge". Don't expect people to stop at Alto signs.

It's really easy to take the bus places, but doing so might be best accomplished with the guidance of a local. It is also very cheap; less than $1 per ride. In fact, most people seem to take public transportation. Keep in mind it is a small country and you can easily see both oceans in a day.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, by law you have to have an international driver's license. However, Ticos are generally accepting of tourists because it makes up a significant part of their economy.

So just don't get in a car accident.
posted by linear_arborescent_thought at 5:11 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did almost that exact itinerary, as a tour. Except we also stopped at a coffee plantation. The waterfall park also has a nifty butterfly . . .uh . . aviary?, if it's the same one. It should work fine. It might be a better plan to skip the SUV, and just arrange it through your hotel as a tour. The packaged tours in SJ are great.
posted by bluesky78987 at 10:40 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for these answers. They will help with the final itinerary.
posted by 99percentfake at 5:28 PM on January 1, 2014

« Older Double taxes? Really?   |   Help me compile a list of 100 books to read Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.